I have an odd relationship with stop motion animation. I am not particularly attracted to the style of animation and am never very interested to see the films when prompted by their trailers. Whenever I manage to end up seeing one though, I'm usually pretty glad I did. From the beginning I have been rather skeptical of "The Pirates! Band of Misfits" due to the lack of a tired premise. Not a year after the tired fourth entry in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" franchise it seemed the testy premise of adventures on the high seas might be out of commission for a while. Instead, what the always reliable Aardman studios has produced here is not exactly a laugh out loud comedy, but is instead a sly little satire on the ways of old Victorian England. It makes keen observations about pirates and their interesting ways with plenty of blink and you'll miss them asides. I was neither hugely entertained or bored with the movie. It is indeed a very British kind of humor that brands the film, which is great as I enjoy that dry wit, but despite the intriguing charisma of the characters there doesn't always feel like enough substance to the story to really warrant a full length feature. I say that and immediately feel bad though, because it really is a delightful little film and breezes by at a brief 88 minutes. There is a stellar voice cast here and the young audience that crowded the theater seemed to enjoy it immensely despite it being somewhat unconventional to their usual 3D fare. It isn't a film the youngins will want to rely on for adequate history lessons, and it isn't something they might even want to re-visit, but in the moment it is exciting and charming.

Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) is a formidable threat.
What I was most concerned with going in was, as I said earlier, the premise. After the writers of that Johnny Depp franchise seemed to exhaust every possible plot related to pirates I wondered first and foremost where this movie was going to take me. The film centers itself around its idiotic if not slightly charming and simply named Pirate Captain. With Hugh Grant doing his best surly growl mixed with that upper crest English accent, he makes the Pirate Captain a lovable simpleton. He (mis)guides a crew of interesting characters that in no manner resemble the classic pirate archetypes we have grown familiar with. I loved that they each had simple descriptive names such as The Pirate with Gout (as played up by the great Brendan Gleeson) and The Pirate with a Scarf (the soon to be Bilbo Baggins but who I will always identify as the British Jim). Anton Yelchin gets in a few laughs as The Albino Pirate and in a great running gag Ashley Jensen, a pro at voice work who you might have seen on Chlesea Lately, is the Surprisingly Curvaceous Pirate. The ragtag bunch is on a quest to help their fearless leader win the coveted Pirate of the Year award that he has had a long standing losing streak with. Naturally, the prize is claimed by the pirate who steals the most gold, and though he is dedicated to his craft, The Pirate Captain is not the most skilled or intimidating enforcer.

The Pirate Captain (Hugh Grant) and his rag tag crew.
Sounds like pretty standard fare so far huh? Yea, that's what I was thinking until the writers threw a pleasant little twist into the mix. The pirate gang, while in the process of hijacking ships and looking for "booty", come across Charles Darwin ( David Tennant).  Darwin sheds light on the fact The Pirate Captain's faithful companion Polly the parrot is not a parrot at all, but the rare dodo bird that could be the answer to his untold riches problem. This leads them through a rather interesting game of double crossing and lies as Darwin wants the praise for his find and the Captain wants his rewards. They run across the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (the wonderfully evil Imelda Staunton) who becomes more of a central focus than her first impression gave, but at least adds depth to the shallow outline of what I thought we would be served. Clearly there would need to be more than I expected, but I guess what I'm really saying is that the experience of "Pirates!" was not the light endeavor I anticipated but in fact turned out to be a rather great investment that in the end was hugely enjoyable. It's weird because I still don't think the movie overall was as exceptional as some likely will, but it was at least a fun and clever written piece. It has a distinctive style that the target audience will probably find engaging as it mixes the stop motion and computer animation, but it also carries that British wit that will help keep the parents in the crowd awake and chuckling.

Darwin's faithful companion seems to be the
most intelligent character around.
As I watched the beautiful, hand-made creations move flawlessly from scene to scene that initial hesitation to embrace the style of animation seemed to fade. I was now seemingly on the other end of the spectrum where I almost appreciated the fact the makers had made such an investment in telling this story that I wanted to applaud it more. It even seemed to give the whole movie a more personal tone, a more human effort. We weren't simply watching characters that animators had constructed inside a digital world while sitting behind a computer, but instead were seeing a hands-on, detailed piece that came from the skills they inherently possessed. That is not to say computer animation doesn't take time (its incredibly detailed work) or doesn't require talent, but this is talent of a different kind. When applied to this medium, while not the most popular at the moment, it still lends a different kind of gut reaction from the audience watching. This is a labor of love and that is what is most evident about "Pirates! Band of Misfits". There is always the supporting characters voiced by more familiar names like Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek (even Al Roker shows up as The Pirate who Likes Sunsets and Kittens) but it is the charm of watching these blob-like characters set against the digitized settings lurch through the film while providing great farce. I could never have seen this film and my life would be no different for it, but even though I can shrug it off doesn't mean it's horrible. It's here and it's probably the best option you have if you're looking for good, family entertainment this weekend.

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